Today I was printing some 35mm black and white negatives I processed this morning in the kitchen sink. Printing negatives in the afternoon that were processed in the morning is not that unusual; the kitchen sink part is.
I have a good supply of Kodak c-41 process black and white film, mostly 120 but a half dozen rolls as well of 35mm. A couple years back a good friend gifted me with his refrigerated stash as he had gone digital in his portrait business. I was my usual skeptical self and didn’t shoot any right away, and then when I did, sent it off to The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA. It looked OK, pretty good, not bad. Still, sending it off was a pain, and expensive for someone used to just going into his own darkroom and processing. I found a video online from the Film Photography Project about using their kit to process C-41 at home and ordered a kit. I was intimidated by the temperature requirements but, Heck, I have six or seven thermometers and the kitchen has hot running water so I tried it.
A chromogenic film, the image structure is made up of dye clouds rather than silver clumps, and the first thing I found out from the 120 rolls was that it scans very well. The second thing I found out was that it requires long exposures when printing on variable contrast paper. I have been using this film in 2 very different ways: the first is an ongoing portrait project, very informal, in which I photograph individuals or couples upstairs in our gallery during a once a month food and music party we host. So often enough the subject lugs up a guitar or fiddle. I have 2 cameras that I use for this, my Mamiya C220 and the baby Linhof, 2X3 with its 6X6 back. I use one white lightning flash with a shoot through 42 inch umbrella aimed at the subject and within two and a half feet of the same. This light is very soft and the 400 ISO film gives me plenty of flexibility with f-stop and shutter speed if I need a little more depth of field.
The Linhof is blessed with a 105 Xenotar. It is a happy camera.
The second way I have been using this film is in the 35mm camera as I roam around public events. I haven’t been using it exclusively but have been alternating it with traditional silver films like Delta 100 and TMY. In the last month or so there have been several of these events in town and I finally got around to processing the C-41 films this week. To be more accurate, I finally accumulated enough rolls to mix my batch of chemistry, a Unicolor kit that has developer, blix, which is a combined bleach and rapid fix, and stabilizer. A friend who was in the business of custom color printing until the digital revolution told me that in the past there had been a Kodak process that divided up the bleach and fix and had some other differences that made it a superior process, but now we have what we have. So I use it.
Some technical notes: I follow my thermometer to develop at 102 degrees, with the Blix about the same. I immerse the bottles in a hard rubber 8X10 developing tank in the kitchen sink, get the water bath at about 110 degrees and monitor the chemistry till it is just right. My negatives are punchier than my commercially processed rolls and when wet make me wonder if I have burned out the highlights. But no, they print easily with no filtration under a cold light head on Seagull VC or Ilford Cooltone multigrade paper. The chemistry is reputed to be short lived so I will want to process some more film in the next week and after that call it good. The instructions say 3.5 minutes at 102 degrees. For the second batch I do 4 minutes. The Blix calls for 6.5 minutes and I stick with that but I have doubled the wash time to six minutes at about 90 degrees. The reason I did this is that I had a persistent magenta runoff after the washing and the stabilizer, dripping down into a white tray, and I was getting ugly white splotches from the runoff. The stabilizer is supposed to make the film more permanent I guess but I don’t understand the process it does for that. The video showed these guys wiping down the wet roll with a folded paper towel and my friend the old film processor and printer about had a fit when I did that in front of him. SO I stopped doing it and started getting these ugly splotches. Hence, two changes I made; I doubled the washing time and then I made a photo flo final bath in distilled water. Now they come out nice and clean.
When our garden is in full bloom I sometimes load up a roll of color print film and it is nice to be able to process that as well. For printing however, we have to rely on our scanner and an ink jet printer, and it is hard for me emotionally to wax enthusiastically about the chugging of the machine.
A couple of days ago we had a nephew here with his old Miata, newly painted a light blue. His Aunt visiting from back east was ironically wearing a matching light blue jacket. The black and white C-41 film rendered both the car and the jacket white! I’ll try out the next roll with a K-2 filter and see what happens.
I also picked up some Kodak Portra 400 B&W 120 rolls and I look forward to trying that out.
July 3, 2018
2 thoughts on “Using C-41 Black and White Film”
I’ve been told that finishing in photflo cancels out the use of stabilizer and you should always end with stabilizer. I don’t know this to be true but I was told that. In the typical C-41 kit the stabilizer comes in a dry powder. Kodak sells a liquid concentrated C-41 stabilizer that I switched to. I’m not certain I needed to make that switch but I have. Also, I wipe my negatives (35mm) four times with Kimtech wipes. Once I started doing this (switching away from a squeegee) I noticed a big improvement. It completely eliminated any drying spots and I have noticed zero scratching because of it.
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Thanks for the note. I’ve wondered about that myself. Next kit I will mix the stabilizer powder with distilled water and see if that makes a difference on the spots. I also wonder if letting the stabilizer dry on the film and then photo-flying afterward would not disrupt the stabilizing effect. I’ll get some Kimtech wipes for sure. Thanks again for the tip.